Three areas of England have been given DfT blessing to experiment with differing forms of transport. Their findings could have major implications for us all
In this case, the announcement of the Department for Transport DfT) Future Transport Zones (FTZ) in late March already seems to belong to another era.
The social, economic and environmental challenges being met by the three areas receiving funding – Solent, West of England and Nottingham and Derby – have been thrown into sharp relief by the Covid-19 pandemic, a crisis which is already threatening to overturn almost all our staple transport assumptions, bankrupt existing operators, disrupt the supply chain and change travel patterns irrevocably.
In this unexpectedly fluid world, the disruptive influence of future transport technology could be greatly amplified (see the increase in bike share and cycling by key workers and NHS staff) or dampened to such an extent that it doesn’t take off (vulnerable start-ups are taking a hit).
There will be social and economic fallout we have not anticipated and unpredictable changes.
Speaking about his vision for five years hence, Conrad Haigh, Solent transport manager, said: “We are testing all of our programme against the changes brought on by Covid-19 and what a post-Covid transport world may look like.
"But, if we have been successful, we hope to have created a genuine catalyst for behaviour change.
"The sight of e-cargo bikes or other Mobility as a Service (MaaS) services in the street including the occasional drone in the sky, will be increasingly familiar to many residents and that these and other new modes we trial prove successful enough to prosper independently and succeed in their own niches.
“A really major ‘win’ would be if we can get our MaaS app to the point where it is being used by people who are primarily car users to (from time to time) plan and make non-car journeys which they might previously have just driven as a default or even evaluating not taking that journey and using remote technology to work or shop from home environmentally.”
The vision for future transport – of radically different future transport patterns and new transport cultures which rely less on privately-owned cars and more on active travel, shared and electric mobility – is common to the FTZ areas.
Mirroring this, some of the technologies will be trialled in all areas.
For instance, all are linking physical and digital connectivity; adopting MaaS platforms, data platforms, mobility credits and mobility hubs. However, each has a distinct additional focus.
The Nottingham/Derby region is concentrating on capitalising on work completed as part of Nottingham’s Go Ultra Low programme which developed its electric vehicle (EV) fleet and ULEV corridor.
The West of England will trial a sophisticated dynamic demand-responsive bus service in the underserved area of Bristol airport and residential zones disconnected from transport hubs.
Solent is trialling new, innovative approaches to the movement of deliveries and goods in urban areas including micro consolidation and delivery drones for medical logistics.
The development of strong data platform support and MaaS will enable the integration of these elements within the wider programmes.